These two down-ballot races will help determine the course of San Diego’s public education system for years to come.
Last week, after I wrote about the billionaire boys club behind the California Charter Schools Association pouring millions of dollars into Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid for governor, even more cash flowed into their campaign war chest the very next day.
As the New York Post reported:
Mike Bloomberg has plopped down $1.5 million to help elect former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as California’s next governor.
Bloomberg wrote the seven-figure check to a PAC called Families & Teachers for Villaraigosa, a big supporter of charter schools.
That’s a big issue for Bloomberg, who championed charter schools as an option for students during his three terms as New York City’s mayor.
If this power play by a handful of oligarchs seeking to determine the future of California was not concerning enough, progressives should also be worried by the mainstream media’s frequent miscasting of this kind of rich man’s pocketbook advocacy. As the Post story puts it, Bloomberg is simply “a big supporter of charter schools,” not part of a powerful network of forces with a clear agenda that may be at odds with the interests of most other Americans.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Times piece on the race characterized the charter forces as those “challenging the status quo in education,” giving a kind of populist credibility to what apparently are a crew of high-minded revolutionaries rather than plutocrats trying to buy an election and impose their agenda, as one might see it when viewing it through a different lens.
Indeed, the issue is not simply being for or against charter schools. The question at present is whether or not one is for the unregulated expansion of charter schools that has drained and will continue to siphon funding from traditional public schools—where 85-90% of children go. This is a process which, if left unchecked, will ultimately undermine public education itself.
As I noted last week, “a brand new report by In the Public Interest, ‘Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts’, documents how the unrestricted expansion of charter schools in San Diego has cost SD Unified $65.9 million and has done similar harm elsewhere in the state.” In fact, there are budget crises looming across California according to the report, “In the spring of 2018—as California school boards finalized their mandatory three-year financial plans—more than 250 school districts were preparing for budget cuts in the upcoming year, with at least 250 more projecting deficits to hit in 2019-20.”
How did we get here? The unregulated spread of charters is a key factor. As the study notes:
School districts are under multiple sources of fiscal stress. It turns out, however, that one significant part of the answer lies in the 25-year expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated and outside the control of local school districts. Over the past two decades, the growth of charter schools has steadily drained money away from traditional public schools and school districts. By 2016-17, charter schools were costing the [Oakland Unified School District] a total of $57.3 million per year—a sum several times larger than the entire deficit that shook the system in the fall of 2017. Put another way, the expansion of charter schools meant that there was $1,500 less funding available per year for each child in a traditional Oakland public school. In San Diego, the net cost of charter schools in 2016-17 totaled $65.9 million—more than enough to have avoided the 2018 cuts and restored services lost in earlier years. And in East Side, the net impact of charter schools amounted to a loss of $19.3 million per year, more than enough to avoid the planned round of staff layoffs. These findings are supported by data from similar studies in other parts of the country and, indeed, serve as conservative estimates of charter school impacts.
Nevertheless, the big money behind the California Charter Schools Association (which is not your local charter school, but a cabal of moneyed interests with very deep pockets who have thrown huge sums into California politics) wants to push forward with the unchecked expansion of charter schools, costs be damned. They successfully killed a bill that would have imposed more accountability on charters at the state level, spent record sums to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District in the last election, and have had designs on the San Diego County Board and local San Diego Unified School Board seats for the last several years.
This matters because in the lead up to the upcoming June 5th election, the same big money interests that are trying to buy the governorship and the Superintendent of Public Instruction at the statewide level are funding challenges to Rick Shea and Alicia Munoz, the current incumbents who are endorsed by local educators and the Democratic Party.
More specifically, the Charter Public Schools PAC sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association along with Reed Hastings (think Netflix CEO) and Jim and Alice Walton (think Walmart money) are funding the opposition to both Shea and Munoz. Here, the interests of the corporate education reform crew intersect with those of the local Republican party and the DeVos agenda at the national level, as the Secretary of Education is a fan of both the unchecked expansion of charters and school privatization.
The current board majority, which includes Shea and Munoz, holds a thin 3-2 edge that stands as a check to the forces of unregulated charter expansion of the sort that is currently bleeding California’s public education system dry. Neither Shea nor Munoz is intent on getting rid of charters nor of not approving good applications. They are simply in favor of holding them to high standards of accountability and weighing the costs of charter expansion against the costs they may impose on other public schools.
Shea and Munoz share one thing in common: an extensive background in public education. Shea spent years as a teacher at the County and was later promoted to special assistant to the superintendent. Munoz was a professor of English as a Second Language at Cuyamaca college for decades and now serves as a dean of that institution. Combined they have over a half-century of experience in education, especially in teaching those who are the most vulnerable. Thus, they are attuned to the needs of students in the County and are especially mindful of how public dollars should be spent to further their educations.
Their opponents, on the other hand, want to rid the system of any checks and pave the way for more and more public dollars going to unaccountable, privately operated charters. Left unaddressed, this process is not just a problem for San Diego schools, it threatens to irreparably harm traditional public schools where the majority of California’s students still learn. This would be a reckless course of action.
In sum, these two down-ballot races will help determine the course of San Diego’s public education system for years to come. So, if you care about saving public schools rather than handing them over to moneyed interests, be sure to vote for Rick Shea and Alicia Munoz.